The Burning Dead, originally titled Volcano Zombies, the movie is about, obviously, zombies that come from a volcano. It features Danny Trejo (Machete) as a Native American called Night Wolf who warns about the lava drooling zombies and Tom Downey (Sorority Party Massacre) as a sheriff trying to rescue a family from the eldritch eruption.
The film will be out March 3 on digital and VOD from Uncork’d Entertainment. A DVD is coming April 7.
It looks cheerfully nuts. We like nuts, so we talked to Rene Perez, the film’s director, about just what inspired this oddball epic.
Thank you for agreeing to the interview, Mr. Perez!
RP: My thanks to you.
Tell me little about yourself. How did you get into making films?
RP: My name is Rene. I’m 39 years old. I’m married with three children and I love making zombie movies. I got into film making through the side door. I was a musician first and I started making music videos for my band’s publisher. Once I saw that I could do that, I went after my life long dream of being a story teller.
What are your favorite zombie films? What are your influences when it comes to this genre?
RP: I’m a big fan of horror movies but not so much zombie movies so far. I like what zombie movies could be. But not so much what they have been up until now. I think zombies movies’ best years are coming now and in the future. Now that people are taking the genre seriously. So I’m looking forward to zombie movies now more than ever. In the case of the Burning Dead I was personally going after the flavor of the 80’s zombie movies.
You’ve amassed a nice body of work with some colorful titles and concepts. Other than The Burning Dead, which of your films is your favorite?
RP: I like the Dead and the Damned 2 which is on DVD now, and I just did part three which is also very good. But actually, I’m probably most proud of a slasher movie I did which is coming out later this year called Playing with Dolls.
What, in your opinion, makes a horror film work? What does it need to hold the attention of and scare the audience?
RP: It all depends on the premise of the story and the tone that you give it. It’s really different in every case. And audiences like different kinds of scares so it also depends on who you’re catering to. Some viewers like jump scares, some like gore, others like the sensation of being creeped out. As a film maker you have to take it all on a scene-by-scene basis.
How do you make sure that can happen on a lower budget?
RP: Actually the Burning Dead is the biggest budget production I’ve ever worked on. It was great. Hats off to the producer. Now to answer your question about how do we do it on a low budget, well, the amount of money you have only affects the spectacle of the story. We have a good amount of spectacle in it already, so what we focused on were the human elements of the story. Those are the parts of the script that you can accomplish well as long as you have good actors. And we had great actors like Danny Trejo, Moniqua Plante and Tom Downey so it was even easier to achieve.
Volcano zombies are certainly a new take on the genre. How did The Burning Dead concept come about?
RP: Actually, The Burning Dead is the first movie that I’ve directed that I didn’t invent or write. I didn’t have to, the producer Jeff Miller had the concept and he had a really great script by writer Jason Ancona. It was so well written that all I had to do were my director and camera man duties. What I liked about the concept and the story is that it’s like a zombie movie set on a disaster movie. Very cool.
Why was the title changed?
RP: All of my movie get title changes at some point and in one country or another. I actually like this new title a lot. It’s a marketing thing. Marketing people know more than film makers as to what is most sale-able. This is one of the few instances where I like the title change more than the original.
In one paragraph, describe what The Burning Dead is about.
RP: It’s about a wise man (Danny Trejo) who warns of an evil curse which will bring the dead back in hellish form and a local sheriff who has to bring a family down from their mountain home as the volcano erupts and releases the burning dead.
In The Burning Dead and your other films, do you prefer practical horror effects (blood bags, etc.) or computer generated effects?
RP: I prefer practical effects. Always. Now there are somethings you can’t do like force a volcano to erupt on cue. Although we did try. You know, for authenticity, but it turns out that human sacrifices don’t actually make it erupt. So in the end, we settled on CGI. There are always some things you can’t do practically. I think this movie has a good mix of both practical and CGI effects.
What was it like filming around active volcanoes? Any special challenges?
RP: Hiking with the camera gear is always tough. You can’t just drive up to a volcano. It was huge. And a few of the actors almost fell into the volcano, but I’m pretty sure that we came back with everyone.
How did Danny Trejo become involved with your project? What was it like working with him?
RP: Danny Trejo gets a lot of scripts so I’m glad he liked ours enough to be in the movie. I met Danny a couple of times randomly before we started filming so I was able to control my being star-struck when he arrived on set. He’s the real deal. He knows what to do and how to do it. As soon as the camera rolled he delivered in a way that only movie stars can. I was so proud to finally have a Latino actor in one of my movies, but on top of that it’s the one and only Danny Trejo.
Do you think we’ll ever run out of twists on the zombie genre?
RP: No. And that’s what makes it exciting. And a twist is not really important but it can be refreshing, the way it is in this movie.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about the film?
RP: It’s a fun ride. It doesn’t take itself too seriously so you can just sit back and have fun with it.